Capitol Insider: Legislators Establish New Districts For State House, Senate And Congress
Following nearly a year of work, the Oklahoma legislature has approved new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts that will be in place for the next ten years.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the legislative special session on redistricting has concluded. Lawmakers spent five days discussing and ultimately approving new state House, Senate and Congressional districts. It's unusual for legislators to be approving new district maps in November, but there was a reason.
Shawn Ashley: That's right, the Census Bureau was supposed to get lawmakers the data back in April. However, those numbers were not available until August, which meant that during the regular session they could work with some estimates for the legislative districts. But when it came time to do the congressional districts, they needed an equal population distribution, and for that, they needed the actual numbers.
Dick Pryor: The House and Senate district maps changed some from the spring, but there was really no disagreement.
Shawn Ashley: That's right, because they had worked on those districts during the spring based on the estimates they had already gone through the discussions on how those lines would be moved about and the chairs of the House and Senate Redistricting Committees pointed out that members were very accommodating and working on those. But when those actual numbers came in in August, what they found was that the urban and the suburban areas had grown more than they had anticipated and that the rural decline in population was greater than expected. So as a result, they had to make adjustments to those lines, tightening up those urban and suburban districts and expanding those rural districts.
Dick Pryor: The districts for U.S. House of Representatives did generate considerable debate, which was primarily focused on CD3 and CD5. What were the biggest concerns expressed, and how did the redistricting committee chairs respond?
Shawn Ashley: There were a number of issues raised concerning the change taking place between CD5 and CD3. What happens is approximately 180,000 residents currently in CD5 get moved into CD3, and that's because of an intrusion of CD3 that comes into southern Oklahoma County. Now that intrusion cuts across the Oklahoma City Public School District, meaning it will have at least two, if not three, members of Congress representing it - those in three, four and five. It also cuts across the predominantly Hispanic part of the Oklahoma City community, moving many of those voters into CD3.
Senator Kay Floyd pointed out during a committee meeting that it reduces the Hispanic population in CD5 from approximately 18 percent, down to 10 percent. Now, the chairs of the House and Senate Redistricting Committees pointed out that these lines had to be drawn somewhere and they had to be drawn in such a way as to create five equally populated districts. They pointed out that they did not look at political party affiliation or racial and ethnic considerations in drawing those lines, but they did listen to community and public input in order to come up with the final map that we now see.
Dick Pryor: When do the new maps take effect?
Shawn Ashley: The new maps will be utilized for the 2022 election cycle. Filing for that election begins April 13th and continues to the 15th and the first election that it will be used for will be the primary election at the end of June. Now that does create an interesting problem because normally you have to be registered to vote in a particular residence six months before the start of filing. That would have been in October. As a result, for the 2022 election cycle, one of the bills moves that deadline to December 31st, 2022. So, if someone's looking at running in 2022, they can still register at a particular residence in order to do so.
Dick Pryor: Redistricting can be challenged in the courts, and in some states, that appears likely. Is it too early to know whether that might happen in Oklahoma?
Shawn Ashley: I really think it is. With lawmakers having just passed the bills, we have to wait and see if Governor Stitt will sign them. And indications are that he will. He has met with the redistricting committee chairs and their staff about the bills and what they do. But then those who might be interested in pursuing a lawsuit are going to have to analyze the bills and the maps and come up with the arguments they would use to challenge those maps.
Dick Pryor: It's been a long process, but it is essentially over. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And we'd like to hear from you. Email your questions to email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.